Pop

The B-52s' Cindy Wilson on 'RuPaul's Drag Race' & Why Performing Still Feels Like a Party 40 Years In

The B-52s
Pieter M van Hattem

The B-52s

In 1989, The B-52s scored their first Billboard Hot 100 hit with "Love Shack," an infectious (and now classic) tune about grabbing your friends and losing yourself to dance by throwing an impromptu dance party.

And if it’s been a while since you’ve seen the video -- shot in a Day-Glo cabin in the middle of the woods -- watch again, and you’ll see RuPaul shaking her thang with the rest of the B’s. With the band appearing on Friday night’s (March 31) episode of RuPaul's Drag Race, the collaboration comes full-circle. Wilson talks to Billboard about the experience, and the band's 40th anniversary tour this summer.

How did you get the call to appear on the show?

We were approached by RuPaul’s people to see if we’d be interested. We’d been kicking that ball around with them before, but it seemed to be a good time. On tour, we always made a point to download a bunch of shows and sit and watch them back to back.

Ru was in the video for Love Shack in 1989. Can you talk a bit about that time, and what it was like working together?

Ru was a drag queen in Atlanta, and a bunch of people came up to New York and we all started hanging out. That was a cool era for us, as well as a really hard time: the AIDS crisis, and losing so many friends back in the mid-'80s, in the early days of New York. It was really wonderful, because it was love and friends, and there was a wonderful sense of coming together, being silly and hoping for the future. It was really special. Of course Ru’s star rose, and she became an enormous star. It’s amazing that she got the TV show, and it’s one of the best shows on right now.

Describe your experience filming the episode. Were you judges on the show?

All the contestants are different ages, shapes and sizes...and different styles. Personally, I thought I would be uncomfortable in a position of judging, but it was all so tongue-in-cheek and so fun. Kate, Fred and I took it very seriously, though. And Ru towered over all of us! She was the tallest and prettiest one of them all. His outfits were incredible. I knew this before, but I didn’t know he kept it: He still has this sweet heart. He’s got a kindness, and he does things for people. I’m so glad he maintained that. He really is a special person.

Did you reminisce about "Love Shack" at all while on set?

Just a little bit. We actually had to concentrate on the business at hand, but he gave me a couple of products to put in my makeup case: bright blue eye drops and eye sparkles.

How would you compare it to other TV experiences you’ve had?

We just did Portlandia -- it was really fun to do this pretend fantasy thing. Both were fun in their own way: One was acting, and one was about having fun. [On Drag Race], It was really wonderful to be able to see the talent and the creativity and how everybody worked together. And the problem of being so close and in competition and all the pressure...a lot of people broke. It’s really amazing how many good people had to go home, but I’m sure part of it was breaking through the pressure.

Can you give us a preview of what’s going to happen on the show?

We watched everybody rehearse their skit, which was wicked and hilarious. I was amazed at how quickly they learned -- it’s no easy feat. They had to learn so many of the songs and dances, and everyone has a different personality of what they would go for and if it worked or not. Lots of funny stuff.

You’re touring with The B-52s this summer. Is it hard touring after playing together for so many years? How do you find the energy to do that?

It’s going to be our 40th anniversary -- we went to Australia, and they were happy to see us since we hadn’t been there for a while. We’re going to be doing a lot more touring, probably for at least two more years. The B's have a diverse audience, and from the start, we've had a strong, playful, creative style that I hope makes your inner-drag want to come out and dance!

You just released two solo EP’s [Sunrise and Supernatural] and are releasing a full-length solo album this summer. Do you have plans for another album with The B-52s as well?

I’m getting crazy doing two things at a time! And it’s an unusually different sound for me, but I’ve been working with a really great crowd. We have no plans for a B-52s album. What we’re going to be doing is re-releasing songs, and reorganizing our live show.

What brings you the most excitement out of touring as a band after so long?

I’m proud -- it’s rare that people get to see us after 40 years. A lot of people write and tell us what The B-52s meant to them -- straight, straight-A students, those who were a little awkward, weren’t always the ones who fit in. People have told us that just having us and our music was beyond important and really made me feel that what we were doing was worth something big.

Has Donald Trump’s presidency inspired you to write more politically charged songs? If not, are you hoping your tour will be a good escape for people looking for a break from the craziness?

I think in this day and age, there’s plenty of conversation and plenty of information, but we do have some songs that would be perfect to describe what’s going on: "Channel Z" being one of them. There are others, too: "Big Bird," "Throw That Beat in a Garbage Can." If you go through our catalog, there’s a lot that would be perfect. Music is a wonderful way of healing and helping get through things. That’s why I’m doing my solos -- it’s definitely to help cope with what’s going on!

Gay Pride Month 2017